Queen Anne Victorian House with Many Colors of Paint

Art the Can Man (Originally March 2003)

Our house is old for Portland, having been built in 1892 by George Martin, great-grandfather of the Beatles’ producer, and at that time the local manager of the San Francisco Bridge Company. That company had been hired by the City of Portland to build a set of bridges over the Willamette River. (They have all been replaced now.) Unfortunately for Mr. Martin, 1893 brought a major recession, and he abandoned the house. As best we can tell it sat vacant, the only house on the block for about 10 years, before the Hosford Family moved in. We put in the paperwork to have the house listed on the National Register of Historic Places late last year, as representative of the Queen Anne style.   The State Historic Preservation Office sent our application off with a recommendation to the “Keeper of the Register” in Washington D.C.,   and we found out that, as of February 27, indeed it has.

Aside from bragging rights, this means we can apply to Oregon to have our property taxes frozen for 15 years, if we submit a plan to “maintain and restore” the property.  We’ll be working on that soon- already we are talking about adding extra gew-gaws to the new porch.  Just last week, I was standing out on the sidewalk, looking up at the porch, visualizing what it would look like with some more gingerbread, when Art, our local wino, came down the street with his shopping cart.

We first met Art 7 years ago, shortly after we moved in.  Oregon has a bottle law that puts a 5 cent deposit on every bottle or can that carries soda or beer.  However, returning them for cash isn’t such a simple matter.  You have to take them to the grocery store, which had one clerk assigned to “bottle return.” (Nowadays there is a machine you stuff them in…) When we were renting, we would save our cans in a hefty-bag, and when it was full, go stand in line at the bottle return.  The clerk had to sort each container, sorting the cans and bottles, which took time. In the end, you stood in line for 15 minutes, got yourself stinky with beer backwash, and were handed something like 3 dollars and 35 cents. 

Most grocery stores have a bin in which you can simply dump your returnables, and the proceeds taken and given to a homeless shelter. It didn’t take us long to decide to do just that.  So back to my tale…Shortly after we moved in, the doorbell rings, and I opened it to find a skinny black man of indeterminate age, with a stringy grey goattee beard, wearing old clothes, and a knit wool cap.  “Hi, I’m Art the can man” he said effusively, “I’ve come for your bottles!” “Huh?” I said.  “I’m Art- people here save up their bottles, and they give them to me.” “Huh?” (I’m known for being quick on my feet.)

“Listen” he said- “You put your bottles in the homeless container, right?” “Yes”.  “Well- cut out the middle man!”

Now, how can you argue with logic like that?  So every couple of weeks, Art comes by, sometimes stewed, sometimes as sober as a judge.  Occasionally, he says he is trying to get up enough to buy a “soft bean burrito” at Taco Bell.  He’s expressed frustration at the daily limit of cans the stores impose, forcing him on occasion to hire one of his peers to stand in line with him- “The cost of doing business…” Once, he brought me a six-pack of beer: “Somebody gave these to me, but they’re not to my taste- me, I’m a wino!” (No bonus points for figuring out how Art knew I was a beer drinker.)

While some remodeling was going on, preparatory to our “Historic” application, Art would come by and supervise. He must have been in the building trades at one point, as he would talk knowledgeably with me and the workmen.  He was always complimentary of the work, but warned us of the wiles of building contractors.  So last week, there I was looking up at the house, and Art came by.  “What are you planning to do next?” he asked as I handed him a bag of cans. 

“Well, we’re thinking of adding some more gingerbread, but I don’t know, it’s awfully expensive.” Art took at me, then the house, then he thrust the bag back into my hands, saying “Well here, let me help the cause!”

I eventually got the cans back into his hands, but I am wondering what sort of little addition we can do to honor our dipsomaniacal friend.

P.S. (2021) Art is gone now, and we never did add any gingerbread.


1 thought on “Art the Can Man (Originally March 2003)”

  1. Love the house, but I see a lot of steps. At my age, that’s a concern, which is why we bought a “patio home” with zero steps in 2002. Will the NRHP designation make it easier or harder to sell down the road? I vote for the former. What’s your favorite part of the inside of the house? Would love to see more pictures.

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